Birth of the Cool is the first career retrospective of Barkley L. Hendricks, renowned American artist, Philadelphia native and alumnus of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
. The exhibition will run at PAFA from October 17, 2009 through January 3, 2010.
"Barkley Hendricks is a seminal figure in the history of American portraitists whose work is uniquely situated at the crossing of American realism and post-modernism, walking a path between figurative artists, such as Chuck Close and Alex Katz, and the conceptualism of African American artists like David Hammons and Adrian Piper," says Julien Robson, the Academy's Curator of Contemporary Art. "His pioneering influence appears in the work of younger generations of artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Rashid Johnson."
Best known for his stunning, life-sized canvasses portraying people of color from the urban northeast, it is through these cool, empowering and sometimes confrontational images that Hendricks explores the cultural complexity of "black" identity in the contemporary world. Variously he works from real life sitters and from photographs-he calls his camera his "mechanical sketchbook"- in a format that is reminiscent of images from fashion magazines and movie posters.
"In these commanding, full-length portraits of African American men and women silhouetted against crisp monochromatic grounds, Hendricks' transforms his subjects from ordinary people into larger than life celebrity icons," adds Robson.
Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool presents 57 paintings from 1964 to the present, including works that he produced while a student at the Academy. As well as his extraordinary portraits of other people, the exhibition will include paintings Hendricks made of himself, including the witty nude self-portrait Brilliantly Endowed (1977). Also featured will be a number of porthole-shaped landscapes Hendricks has painted in Jamaica, where he has traveled annually for the past 25 years to paint en pleine air (outdoors in natural light).
"We are proud to represent the accomplishments of one of our most distinguished alumni, Barkley Hendricks. This is an exciting opportunity to reach out to the entire community, and to that end we are pleased to announce that we will waive admission fees on Sundays for the entire duration of this exhibition," says David R. Brigham, PAFA's Edna S. Tuttleman Museum Director.
Birth of the Cool's opening launches the Academy's "FREE Sunday Series," designed to enrich and engage families and their communities by providing opportunities to learn and create together. The series begins each Sunday at 1 p.m. and includes free admission to PAFA's exhibitions as well as activities like hands-on art making workshops, music and dance performances, lectures, video screenings and storytelling. The first "FREE Sunday" program is Meet the Artist: Barkley Hendricks, Sunday, October 18.
A Philadelphia native born in 1945, Hendricks studied at PAFA from 1963 to 1967 and was the first African America student to be awarded two consecutive travel grants, the Cresson European Traveling Scholarship and the J. Henry Scheidt Traveling Scholarship. By his own admission, these two travel awards, which took him to museums and galleries throughout Europe and North Africa "were unquestionably the instigators of a life of global look-seeing," says Hendricks in the Birth of the Cool catalogue (see below).
Hendricks subsequently graduated with a BFA and MFA in painting and photography from Yale. He has exhibited widely in solo and group shows and his works are held in major museum collections. The recipient of many awards and fellowships, he lives in New London, Connecticut where he has been a Professor of Art at Connecticut College since 1972.
The exhibition was organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, which also published the fully illustrated 140-page catalogue that accompanies the show. PAFA's exhibition of Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool will be augmented with important works held in local Philadelphia private collections.